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Pioneers launch progress boom

08 March 2022

Erin Burns // Getty

In a six-part series focusing on women in the Cricket NSW community for International Women’s Day on March 8, Sixers star Erin Burns reflects on how generations of women chipped away at gender inequities bit by bit to launch a massive progress boom in recent years.

Erin Burns has achieved a lot in well over a decade at the highest levels of Australian cricket, playing for Tasmania, ACT and the NSW Breakers in the Women’s National Cricket League, starring in T20 competitions in Australia and abroad and in 2019, representing her country for the first time in both ODI and T20 formats.

Then, as a member of the triumphant Australian squad, Burns had a front row seat for the greatest day in the history of women’s cricket, the 2020 ICC Women's T20 World Cup Final at a packed MCG. Yes, she even danced on stage with Katy Perry!

But that is just a small chapter – all but the brightest chapter – of Burns’ front row viewing.

As a 33-year-old who came through the NSW Pathway before plying her trade around the country at domestic level, Burns has seen the massive transformation of the women’s game first-hand. It would even be fair to say she has played a part in driving the extraordinary progress that has been made in the quest for gender equity.

A year or so ago, this progress, this transformation, hit Burns in the head like a sledgehammer. A ‘wow’ moment that brought a shake of the head followed by a big smile.

She was working out at Cricket NSW’s Sydney Olympic Park gym when a teenage Breakers teammate arrived in a brand spanking new car that she had bought with her ‘cricket money’.

The story goes the young player came into the gym with a grin from ear to ear and told her teammates about the new car she had just bought.

When asked how she could afford such a nice car the rising star explained she had been contracted to the Breakers and a WBBL club for a few years and had saved the money. She was barely 18.

“When I was her age, trying to get myself a professional or even semi-professional contract, I would literally have been stoked if I could have scraped together 500 bucks for a used car.

“At the same stage of my career we had to pay for almost everything. It really was a case of if you wanted to play at a higher level you had to pay your own way.

“You’d be like, ‘I’m keen to play so I’ll do whatever it takes to be able to play’. We all did.”

And it was that ‘whatever it takes’ mantra held by generations of women who simply loved to play cricket that laid the platform for the stars of today and tomorrow.

No longer do domestic level players have to pay for facilities and elite coaches or SSSM support. They often now play at major venues in front of booming crowds and feature in prime-time television coverage. Their competitions are supported by mainstream media and marketing dollars.

“We are now reaping the benefit of a lot of groundwork from a lot of women over the last 10, 15, 20 years or more,” Burns said.

“15 or 20 years ago the Australian women’s team toured around largely unnoticed and probably paying for a lot of their own way but players like Lisa Keightley, Julie Hayes and Lisa Sthalekar began to shift things.

“We have seen in the last 10 years, and continue to see, an incredible depth of talent in the women’s game and as soon as people realised that the investment has come.

“In the last five years salaries have gone up dramatically for Australian and domestic players and it’s no surprise, as a consequence, so has the standard of play. That coupled, with the success of the Australian Women’s Team has driven tremendous growth.”

Burns’ career has straddled what is no doubt a ‘Golden Era’ for women’s cricket in Australia, both on and off the field. The bias is certainly starting to break and the veteran all-rounder, who is a new mum, still plays for the Breakers and works part-time as a physiotherapist, says things are only going to get better.

“I can only imagine what will happen in the next 3-4 years.”

This story is one of a six-part series released by Cricket NSW to celebrate women in the cricket community who are 'Breaking the Bias'. Click here to check out the full series.